For more than four months, my colleagues and I have focused our efforts to address the ongoing needs of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic and have been successful in providing much-needed relief through the CARES Act and HEROES Act.
It has long been reported, and I have witnessed firsthand, the disproportionate impact on lower-income and minority communities like those in my district in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. My constituents deserve high-quality health care and their providers — community-based primary care and independent physicians — want to safely and appropriately treat them as cities and localities around New York state begin to re-open.
For this reason, I have requested that any forthcoming COVID-19 relief package prioritize direct financial support to community-based primary care physicians, independent physicians and independent physician association groups to purchase and reimbursed for personal protective equipment (PPE).
We know that PPE is a vital necessity for the safety of patients and health-care providers not only responding to the COVID-19 pandemic but also those who are reopening and seeing patients for routine and non-COVID visits. This is particularly important for providers in low-income communities, many of whose patients are Medicaid beneficiaries.
While the threat and dangers of COVID-19 has not fully abated, there are areas that are slowly re-opening under the guidance and instruction of social distancing and use of PPE. Many health-care professionals with whom I have spoken agree wholeheartedly that PPE and other upgrades to office infrastructure and organization are necessary for the health and safety of their patients and their staff, as well as for the greater public health.
As doctors begin to accept non-emergent, in-person patients, it is critical they abide by new regulations ensuring precautions are taken to minimize the spread of COVID-19. This includes acquiring N95 respirators, protective eyewear, face shields, disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, protective gowns, alcohol wipes, disinfectant spray, disinfectant wipes and commercial-grade HEPA filters to augment existing ventilation systems to care for COVID-19 patients. It may also require other changes in their offices’ construction to ensure proper social distancing.
Due to the current climate, many health-care professionals are rightly concerned about the costs associated with purchasing the required PPE and making other changes. As the early days of this pandemic made clear, the demand for expensive and often single-use PPE will create a new cost-barrier to care in low-income communities.
For practices whose patients are primarily Medicaid beneficiaries, the cost of PPE coupled with the reimbursement for care may not be enough to sustain their re-opening, meaning some of our most at-risk communities will not be able to receive the care they need. While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services allows states to increase their reimbursement to Medicaid and CHIP providers to include the cost of PPE, many states are facing such difficult fiscal conditions as a result of a fall in locally collected revenue that their state budgets may not permit for such increases in their FMAP share.
The next COVID-19 supplemental must include funds specifically for the purchase and reimbursement of PPE — including retroactive reimbursement — for community-based independent primary care and small independent physician groups treating low-income and Medicaid-eligible patients.
The COVID-19 response is leaving behind our most vulnerable populations, specifically communities of color, seniors, those with limited mobility and immigrants. We must act now to protect the New Yorkers most at risk during this crisis.